Thursday, March 11, 2021

USDA extends free school meals through September; meal providers say they need more money to cover packaging

The U.S. Department of Agriculture announced this week it will extend several waivers to allow all children, regardless of income, to receive free school meals through Sept. 30 via the Summer Food Service Program and the Seamless Summer Option program. The waivers had extended only to June 30. The programs allow meals to be served outside of the normally required group settings and meal times, and allow parents or guardians to pick up meals, including in bulk to cover several days, USDA says.

"However, Tuesday’s announcement did not come with increased per-meal reimbursements for providers," Laura Reiley reports for The Washington Post. "During the pandemic, most school-meal programs have operated at a loss, with significantly higher costs and no increased per-meal reimbursement."

Lisa Davis, a senior vice president at hunger charity Share Our Strength, said it's more expensive for schools to implement these programs. "Schools have needed boxes and bags and shrink wrap," she told Reiley. "There has needed to be added refrigeration to store meals safely. Then there were supply-chain issues, transportation costs went up, and certain foods were harder to come by and at a premium. Staffing costs went up as districts started paying hazard pay, bringing in temporary support and providing PPE."

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